The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded food startup Bugeater Foods with $100,000 to "find new ways to turn insects into safe, healthful staple food products that taste good," according to Omaha World-Herald.
If Bugeater's rice-shaped pasta, ramen and macaroni noodles perform well, the company has the chance to receive an additional $600,000 to cover the cost of manufacturing the products for commercial sale.
The Nebraska-based company aims to include as much bug-based nutrition in its products as possible, without compromising their look, taste, and cooking quality. The company will set up taste trials for its insect-based products in the spring, and will also send the food to chefs for critical feedback.
Insects aren't widely viewed as a food source in the U.S. because too few edible bugs are available here — less than a dozen species, compared to 300+ in some countries, according to the World Health Organization.
Crickets, however, are found throughout the world, and contain healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein. As Mother Nature so often reveals, good things come in small packages.
In most countries where crickets and other insects are regularly consumed, they became — and remain — an important diet component out of necessity, not desire. American consumers have a plethora of protein options at their disposal and a love for red meat. These cultural trends, plus the "ick" factor of edible insects, make it challenging to market cricket-based products.
Still, crickets have a significantly smaller carbon footprint than cows and other protein sources do, and researchers have also found that they provide more minerals than beef. This may be enough to sway consumers who are conscious of the environment and their health who are looking to bolster sustainability, but only time will tell if the average mass market consumer will get on board with eating bugs.
The food industry certainly isn't squeamish when it comes to crickets. Companies like Chirps, Bitty and Exo Protein all use cricket-based ingredients to make their products, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down.